Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hills on the Swim

When I decided to to return to Ironman racing after a six year hiatus it was with a few stipulations. I didn't want to do a race I had already done and I wanted to do a tough race in a scenic environment. Oh, and it also still had to be open for registration. This landed me on Ironman St George in Utah. This race would only be occurring for it's third time and it already had a reputation of being a difficult course and race. Woohoo, sign me up. With this race being tough it meant that the field would be smaller, more like when I started out in this sport, and it would have more experienced athletes racing.

Race morning dawned bright and early (who am I kidding, it hadn't even dawned yet the moon was shining brightly). Morning preparations went super smoothly and before I knew it, it was time to don the super flattering giant rubber suit and head to the water.

Pure excitement:)

I headed down to the swim start with my triathlon hero Jason and we entered the water about 15 minutes before the start of the race. We got a little warm up and then selected our starting position. We were on the front line on the right and using our aqua jogging skills to keep warm. The crowd kept getting pushed forward by what I thought was a bit of current. The kayakers were having to work to keep everyone back on the line and just before the start gun went off the entire field was drifting forward about 25 metres. We were fighting to stay back but it was requiring huge effort. Didn't think anything of it and when the cannon sounded we were off. Immediately, I thought to myself this is the best Ironman swim start I have ever had. I have never lined up at the front before but have been feeling very confident in my swim abilities and the work I have put in. (my first Ironman for example I waiting on the beach until everyone was swimming and away from shore before plunging in- I ended up passing lots of people). Just like the time I started dead last this time I had a clean start without anyone hitting me. We were cooking along and I felt relaxed and smooth. Several times I though to myself, 'wow, this is an amazing swim, I feel so smooth and I am getting a great draft'. Best swim I've ever had, just keep enjoying it and living in the moment! Then I reached the first left turn buoy, about 1000 metres into the swim.

As I made the turn I thought like everyone else probably did, 'who's the jerk driving the power boat out here'. The swells were pretty big and coming at us from the side. Nothing crazy, just like a boat had driven past. I looked up and saw no boat and saw that the swells were not going away. 400 metres swimming with the swells coming at us from the left saw people getting tossed around pretty good. It was still not too bad and you could see the buoys that were marking the course. The rocking side to side was nothing I haven't experienced in a ocean swim. I did notice a few other swimmers were starting to stop and tread water and was concerned that they weren't feeling very comfortable out there. I also realized at this point that the next left turn would have us going directly into the swells. Since the swells had just started out at this buoy line I was able to convince myself that they would end as abruptly as they started and we would be back to smooth lake water.

found this online, the pros had a 15 min start on us, apparently it was worse when we got there

I was wrong. We swam the whole way back, over 1 mile directly into the swells. Big giant swells that were pummeling people. I was getting very worried for the swimmers around me and we seemed to develop an unspoken buddy system out there. There were times when I couldn't see another swimmer anywhere and then wham, we'd be slammed into each other. It was so ridiculous that I was laughing. I know that many people were very scared out there, but I was having fun. I mean, I wanted tough and mother nature was finding a way to deliver. I remember thinking, I heard this was a hilly course but I've never swam uphill before, this is awesome. Bring it on. Test me, let's see what I am made of. I also reminded myself to keep swimming and stay relaxed, the more relaxed I could stay the less energy I was burning and the safer I was. I stopped a few times and asked swimmers who were stopped if they were okay and they all told me they were, they were just trying to sight. It really was mayhem. Buoys were being blown away and at one point I saw a buoy that was way off to my right in the middle of nowhere, luckily it wasn't a turn buoy so I could stay on the buoy line.

sometimes it felt like we were swimming into this!
Finally I got to the final turn buoy and made the turn. Now the water was pushing me. Unlike the swells in the ocean though there was no rhythm to the action. There were no lulls between waves and you couldn't predict when another big swell was coming. I kept thinking in my head, thank you coach for all the head up drills you make us do, now I see the point. I also was thanking him for the times he makes us swim with minimal breathes because I knew I could miss a breath and survive. It was also nice that it was clean lake water that we were swallowing instead of salt water. Mentally, I was doing what I had trained to do, I was having fun, staying in the present and keeping a good attitude. Oh, and I was passing tons of people body surfing into the finish chute. So fun!

yes, it was a lake!

My 13th Ironman swim is my most memorable by far, it was the roughest open water swim I have ever done and it was in a lake, go figure! How many people can say that they literally were swimming uphill?

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